Many career pundits believe that career development is all about ‘connecting the dots’; that is, looking back on what you’ve done and seeking the patterns and themes in your life. This process will ultimately lead to the best career path. Makes sense, right?
I don’t think so. At least, not exactly.
As important as ‘connecting the dots’ is, it can’t take precedence over ‘collecting the dots’. Collecting is the living, attempting, finishing, creating, and stepping-out-of-your-boundaries experiences of life that must precede the connecting.
As a career facilitator, I encourage all my student to collect their dots first. Students need to experience as much as possible. Schools do a great job in this area. Academic courses, extra-curricular activities, exchange trips, and special projects all offer chances to collect dots. The community-at-large also offers possibilities like sports, dancing, coaching, and volunteering. Employers offer chances to learn and grow in workplaces. Family life – cooking, chores, supervising a sibling, driving – also builds up the cache of dots that build a person’s skills, character, aptitudes, and interests.
Only after collecting the necessary dots and participating genuinely in experiences can a person truly connect the dots of their lives. Connecting involves reflection and thoughtful inquiry about the impact of those experiences. And a robust career development process shouldn’t be a lonely process – a career coach, friend, parent, or trusted advocate can help converse about the possibilities and connect those dots.
Steve Jobs said in his famous commencement address at Stanford University in 2005 that “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.” When you are looking backward, it is important both to have enough dots to connect and to engage your dots with genuine curiosity to reflect about how they connect with you.
The LEAN Career Design Canvas offer a chance to collect and connect the dots. Can’t do one without the other.